Left Anti-Electoralism and Neoliberalism: A Response to Arun Gupta

1) Arun Gupta is correct in his recent Counterpunch piece.  Elections cannot build movements and they can also undermine them-the election of Obama being the parade example (as I attempted to communicate  many times in 2007 and 2008, always ignored). They can, however, confer state power ON movements as we know from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Equador and Evo Morales in Bolivia-to mention a few cases.

2) Elections can also serve to delegitimize center left parties pushing institutionalized neoliberal austerity as we demonstrate by the single digits now acquired by PASOK in Greece and the Spanish PSOE.  The same road is being pursued by the British Labor Party-deservedly humiliated a few weeks ago. (Update: I have argued here that the Sanders candidacy should be seen in this light-its role will not be to reform and unreformable DP but to fatally expose and delegitimize it.)

3) Given 1) and 2),  it follows that it’s a good thing that Chavez, Correa and Morales were not anti-electoralists. If they were, Latin America would still be suffering under neoliberal austerity and Noam Chomsky would not be celebrating it as a model for successful populist insurgencies.

4) It’s also a good thing that that voters turned down PASOK and the British LP setting stage for Corbyn. It’s also a good thing that Spain voted in several Podemos mayors possibly anticipating a victory in subsequent national elections. It’s also (on balance) a good thing that an anti-austerity party, (Syriza) won in Greece. These constitute the beginning stages of a left challenge to entrenched capital. And while there will be inevitable retreats, mistakes and defeats, this is what progress looks like.  It is a rare bit of good news.

5) Bottom line: Fighting neoliberalism requires protest movements acquiring state power and then exercising it to restore a minimally sane and decent distribution of society’s wealth and resources. Given that state power is non-violently acquired via elections fighting neo-liberalism means competing in elections. Anti-electoralism of the sort endorsed by Gupta and others means capitulation to neoliberalism.  Those endorsing it won’t like this conclusion, but it is the fact of the matter.

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5 thoughts on “Left Anti-Electoralism and Neoliberalism: A Response to Arun Gupta”

  1. I would support the candidacy of Sanders as an independent or as a Republican Party candidate.

    The function of the Democratic Party is to absorb and neutralize the pro-social agendas of movements to the left of the institutional duopoly.

    If the electoral capture of the American people is complete, attempts to force the movement of the Democratic Party to the left will result in its absolute refusal to move left, even to the point of the Democratic Party’s surrender to the Republican Party in service to the agenda of the unified oligarchic owners of the institutional duopoly.

    This would not be unprecedented. Illinois members of the House of Representatives would not support Carter against Reagan in 1980.

    Walter Karp notes in his “Indispensable Enemies” that the Democratic Party used the 1980 loss to Reagan, a result they actively supported, as justification for pulling support from left leaning Democrats.

    Any successful movement of the left would have to be very large and very determined to see the Democratic Party and the Republican Party as partners in crime and adverse to their interests.

    I don’t see this very necessary public about to assemble.

    So I expect more of the same, absent some wholesale mass conversion by some means outside of my ability to imagine.

    I welcome being proven wrong by some new administration that will have dethroned the oligarchic kingmakers post 2016.

  2. I have written a piece for Counterpunch on the Gupta article which I think will run today. I agree with you. I also want to add that Gupta seems to think (or gives the impression that) social movements are not hierarchical, limited by the Democratic Party, not tied to an NGO industrial complex, not co-opted, not-verticalist, represent always an authentic voice, etc. This view is totally naive. I have presented a Swedish example of the trade offs associated with actually existing social movements here: http://www.globalteachin.com/deconstructing-the-swedish-culture-elites-view-of-sweden As for the U.S. case, I have also written about social movement limits here: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/12/01/ferguson-racial-tropes-and-the-politics-of-scarcity/
    I wrote about the limits to the Democratic Party and African American political power, here: http://www.nytimes.com/1983/04/27/opinion/l-the-carter-lesson-for-black-voters-126374.html Not much has changed, although with some intermediary pressure (which hopefully would be forceful without being rude), Sanders can raise all kinds of issues that have been neglected.

    1. Thanks-good to find that there’s a developing core of agreement on these questions on the left. Both electoralism and anti-electoralism have important limitations and its important to keep these in mind as we move forward. In particular, I agree the fetishishization of protest movements is a problem. It’s a serious mistake to assume that these are necessarily advancing a left agenda as it is to take on face value that the claims of leadership as to what constituency they are representing.

      1. Here is a key problem for those debunking Sanders: They have no end game. Their end game is “really existing social movements” which are themselves dysfunctional. One reason why they are dysfunctional is that they fail to link issues or mobilize large numbers doing do. While Occupy started to do that, they too lacked an end game. They could not successfully/sufficiently operate in the meso level between ad hoc, localized protests, and macro politics against capitalism. What is needed is something vastly new which on occasion emerges. But guess what? That would take a lot of work and an ethics beyond the divisive sectarianism that dominates a lot of discussion these days. I think this is because ethics is equated with identity and I think that is wrong. Ethics is its own complication and very few on the Left deal with it and it has helped to disintegrate the Left over and over and over. Not being in the Democratic Party is not a strategy. It is merely a position. The limits of that party are clear as are the limits of those not in the party. The interesting thing? Persons opposed to that party are not very effective usually so they need a better mechanism. I think actually accountability systems can be ubiquitous and address the Democratic Party in part as I earlier explained, but you can be in and outside the Party at the same time with a parallel movement.

  3. Thanks.

    This is a really excellent formulation of the issue: ” Not being in the Democratic Party is not a strategy. It is merely a position. ”

    Pre-emptive apologies for forgetting to credit you when I borrow it.

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